The Complete and Exhaustive Review of Superhero Straight-to-DVD Animated Features! Part Two: The Mediocre
April 23, 2010
Part Two: The Mediocre
19. Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006)
Trouble in Tokyo was released following the Season Finale and cancellation of the television series Teen Titans. It more or less wraps up the show and completes the character arcs of our young heroes. The Teen Titans are thrown into action when a new dichromatic foe, Saico-Tek, attacks their tower. After a brief interrogation and mysterious disappearance of the villain, the Titans follow their only clue to Japan in search of “Brushogun”. While most of the Titans are enjoying a “vacation”, Robin utilizes his detective skills to uncover their mysterious opponent. After battling a Godzilla like monster, it becomes clear that not everything is well in the streets of Tokyo. Each Titan is attacked by a monster possessing similar powers to their own, Robin is framed for a crime, and the villain Brushogun is nowhere to be found. Can Robin solve the mystery in time to save the Titans from Japanese prison, or death at the hands of these mysterious creatures?
Teen Titans succeeds because it knows exactly what it is and what its going for. It’s thoroughly a kids movie and knows better than to take itself too seriously. We get some well choreographed fight scenes, (especially one surprisingly emotional scene with Robin), but there’s also some cartoon humor and silly montages. The artists definitely utilized the Tokyo setting. I loved the anime references in art style, and there were some really hilarious genre mashup segments. (The Godzilla attack was fantastic).
As far as plot and general interest, Teen Titans lacks what the other features have going for them. It isn’t nearly as serious or intriguing as the other films and most people probably wouldn’t give Trouble in Tokyo a second thought. Trouble in Tokyo is more like an 80 minute cartoon than a true movie. But it also knows exactly what its going for and nails it spot on the head, and I am definitely rewarding that. I’d rather watch a movie that knows what it wants and succeeds with flying colors than something like Invincible Iron Man that plans big but falls flat on its face.
18. Gotham Knight (2008)
Taking a few tips from The Animatrix, Gotham Knight is an animated anthology of six animated short films set in-between Major Motion Pictures Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Correction: loosely set between Begins and Dark Knight, but not really capturing the same feeling as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. The six short films feature different aspects of Batman and his relation to Gotham City.
The first, Have I Got a Story for You (Studio 4°C) depicts children telling grossly exaggerated stories about Batman, which addresses the Dark Knight’s mythical influence on society. Crossfire (Production I.G) shows Batman’s effect on city cops as he stops a gang war. Field Test (Bee Train) focuses on the technological advancements Batman uses to fight crime. In Darkness Dwells (Madhouse) takes Batman to the sewers beneath Gotham, pitting him against Killer Croc and Scarecrow. Working Through Pain (Studio 4°C) tells of a younger Bruce Wayne who dedicates himself to a psuedo-spiritual discipline in managing pain. Here Bruce learns to master martial arts and physical pain, but is still driven on by his inner demons. Deadshot (Madhouse) is the final short-story depicting Batman’s face-off against the villain Deadshot.
Gotham Knight is worth watching for its animation style and character work with Batman, but it’s far from a masterpiece. The animation of Gotham City is a real treat, but Batman goes through a costume design kaleidoscope. Some depictions are simple, others exuberant, and some are just far too bizarre for the Dark Knight. There’s some thoroughly silly anime moments here that just shatter the Batman feel. In Deadshot, Batman deflects a bullet meant to assassinate Lieutenant Gordon by punching it. In case you missed that, let me repeat myself: flying through the air and punching it. Things like this make “willing suspense of disbelief” a little tough. My wife agrees with me that Gotham Knight really shot itself in the foot by using the most bizarre story and animation in their opening feature, Have I Got a Story for You.
Bruce Wayne’s journey is a uniquely fascinating one, but one scene with firearms (from Working Through Pain) is Batman portrayal at its lowest. Character development is a wonderful thing for Batman, but only if it’s good. To conclude on Gotham Knight, I think promoting itself as a companion to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was its biggest mistake. You can’t claim to support Christopher Nolan’s Batman concept and then have him animated in such a stylized fashion and punching bullets out of the air. It’s still Batman, making Gotham Knight worth watching and automatically more interesting than the other superheroes, but it’s also sloppy and a real mixed bag. And with Batman, a “mixed bag” doesn’t cut it.
17. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)
It’s a little ironic that the best Avengers movie is the one clearly made for kids. Sporting classic kid-stuff plot devices, cheesy lines, a pre-pubescent superhero team, and a PG rating, Next Avengers is probably the tamest superhero animated feature. The film opens with a “story”, telling of the great Avengers who brought peace throughout the Earth. They hooked up and had kids (the heroes of this film), but soon after were killed off by Ultron, the most powerful villain ever. With the Avengers slain, Tony Stark whisks the children off to an Arctic hideaway to raise the next generation of heroes in safety. The four kids, James Rogers (son of Captain America and Black Widow), Henry Pym Jr. (son of Giant-Man and the Wasp), Azari (son of the Black Panther and Storm), and Torunn (daughter of Thor and Sif) are raised on fairy tales of the great Avengers who came before and live in fear of Ultron. After some typical kid-story plot devices (like accidentally activating a switch in a room they weren’t supposed to be in) Tony Stark’s robotic “Iron Avengers” launch off in search of Ultron, revealing the location of their arctic hideaway. The Iron Avengers are quickly defeated and assimilated by Ultron, who then seeks out Tony Stark, the last Avenger alive. Iron Man sacrifices himself so the kids can escape, which is silly because they just turn right around to rescue Tony Stark from the machine-city. Here they meet up with the human resistance, led by Barton (son of Hawkeye the archer). Faced not only with Ultron, but a group of iron robots who embody the powers of their parents, it looks pretty grim for the young heroes. It’s concluded that the Incredible Hulk is their only chance, and the heroes of tomorrow seek out an extremely old (and whiny as ever) Bruce Banner in order to defeat Ultron.
Next Avengers is thoroughly a kids movie, much moreso than any other film here (except Teen Titans, of course), but it’s also pretty fun. I enjoyed some of the childish jokes and fun action. They did remarkably well with developing each kid as the descendant of the superpowered Avengers we know and love. The storyline has a nostalgic “what-if” Saturday-morning-cartoon feel. It develops, in a mild way, a darker world where only Tony Stark survives and takes responsibility over raising the Avengers kids. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is just good old kid fun with some wisecracks about the Avengers, which just happens to make it more entertaining than the actual Ultimate Avengers releases.
16. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)
A new “hero” has arrived in Gotham, a reckless female vigilante bearing Batman’s iconic cape and cowl (but with a dash of pink!). This “Batwoman” has both Gotham City’s villains and the Dark Knight investigating her identity, until the crime-lords get so worried that they hire Bane to beef up their private security. Batman must find this masked heroine and stop her before the female vigilante’s willingness to kill gets out of hand.
Mystery of the Batwoman does a great job at introducing enough female characters to keep you guessing at the new vigilante’s identity. The characters are handled well and the action scenes unfold pretty expertly. That is, until the ending. It’s not a terrible ending, just lackluster when compared to Batman’s other exploits. The film consistently kept Batwoman’s identity secret, but then everybody feels pretty free to rip their masks off for the whole world in the last 10 minutes of the film (it’s almost as bad at Batman Returns!) Batwoman is not as dark or action packed as Return of the Joker, and narrower scope than Mask of the Phantasm, but it’s a concise adventure placing Batman up against, (or teamed up with?), a female character.
15. Hulk Vs. (2009)
If you love the Hulk Smash, then this dvd is for you. Hulk Vs. is a compilation of two animated short films, Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor. The first: Hulk vs. Wolverine was created to feature the character of Deadpool and generate hype for the new Wolverine and the X-men TV series, (which is now in its second season and doing rather well). Hulk vs. Thor introduces audiences to Thor and his world, designed to build up interest in Marvels upcoming Thor live-action film.
Hulk vs. Wolverine features Logan’s original comic debut, where he’s sent by the government to bring down the Hulk. Our two heroes duke it out for awhile before being captured by Weapon X. We’re introduced to Wolverine’s past and his villains,\ (Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red, and Deadpool). The script really showcases Deadpool as a comedic highlight; the movie is worth watching for him alone. Packed with tons of nicely choreographed action and a stunningly well-cast Wolverine, Hulk Vs. Wolverine is an excellent watch for any X-men or Hulk fan.
Hulk vs. Thor does a fine job of introducing the realm of Asgard and its heroes. Loki, the God of Mischief, captures Bruce Banner and sends the rampaging Hulk to kill Thor. Thor and all of Asgard throw themselves against the Hulk, but it’ll take even more than Mijolnir’s Hammer to stop this raging green beast. If you get tired of really repetitive action and a lot of screaming “RAARGH!” every time someone gets hit, this movie is not for you. Some more fight choreography would have done wonders here. But if you’re up for half an hour of Hulk going head to head with Asgard, (it fittingly reminded me of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings), then you’ll get an eyeful. Hulk vs. Thor serves its purpose of introducing Thor’s characters and his world, but it just gets a little too long and a little too ridiculous. The “eye-roll” moments are rather high here, what with lines like “but if the mighty Thor fails, what hope is there for Asgard?” I recommend it for the fact that it sets up Planet Hulk extremely well.
14. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (1998)
The Animated Series is attributed with developing Mr. Freeze into one of the best Batman villains ever. (Until Freeze was tarnished by Arnold Schwarzenegger in that awful Batman and Robin movie. Blegh.) Dr. Victor Freis developed state-of-the-art cryogenic technology in order to save his wife from a terminal illness. When his superiors pulled funding, there was a horrible lab accident and Dr. Fries’ body had to be constantly kept in subzero temperatures. This led him to become the supervillain Batman knows as Mr. Freeze. Subzero skips this origin story and begins with a icebreaker submarine unknowingly crashing into Victor Fries’ arctic sanctum. His wife’s cryogenic chamber is severely damaged, leaving Mrs. Fries in need of an organ transplant. Freeze resorts to kidnapping Barbara Gordon (who he doesn’t know is actually Batgirl) and takes her to an abandoned oil rig to harvest her organs. Most of the film features Barbara’s attempts at escape while Batman and Robin investigate her disappearance.
Subzero is classic Batman: The Animated Series. Any fans of the beloved 90’s TV series will find some nostalgia here. There’s the classic detective work, an impressive motorcycle chase, great voice acting, it’s all here. But with that said, Subzero doesn’t go the distance. For reasons I don’t understand, it doesn’t spend any time covering Freeze’s back-story (which is odd, because TAS are the ones who created it). Without this explanation, Freeze comes off as a real toolbag rather than someone making evil choices out of desperation. However, the film finishes his character arc extremely well. The last 2 minutes are the best part of the film. But unless you’ve seen TAS episode revealing his origin, you miss the full picture. Because of this, Subzero feels like a lengthy episode instead of a movie. It’s good, it’s classic, but it doesn’t put in the extra effort.